Automation in the laboratory is nothing new and the last few years has seen some tremendous leaps in the technology including increased efficiency, the ability to standardize and the possibility of reducing the number of FTE’s or their existing workload. Despite all these advances, blood collection remains a manual process in the laboratory. Questions surrounding how blood collection could be automated and if it should be done are plentiful but the real question is can it be done?
Veebot LLC certainly seems to think so.
Phlebotomists, nursing personnel and other qualified healthcare professionals responsible for collecting blood or starting IVs may soon find themselves in new company. Veebot is developing an automated venipuncture solution in the form of the Veebot Robotic Phlebotomist. Veebot is a startup company headquartered in Mountain View, California, founded in 2010 with only 4 employees. The prototype was built by Richard Harris back in 2009 as a topic for a project while a third-year undergraduate at Princeton’s mechanical engineering department. This system combines robotics and image analysis software to automate the blood drawing and IV inserting process. According to Veebot 20% to 25% of venipuncture procedures fail to draw blood on the first stick. The Veebot Robotic Phlebotomist currently has an 83% success rate at correctly identifying the best vein to target. The goal is to reach a 90% rate. The estimated market for this system is $9 billion based on the amount of times per year blood is drawn and IVs are started.
The Veebot Robotic Phlebotomist system works by first having the patient insert their arm through an archway over a padded table where a cuff holds the arm in place and restricts blood flow in the same way a tourniquet does. Once the veins become more prominent an infrared light illuminates the inner elbow for a camera that then uses software to select the most likely vein for collection. Today, vein anatomy is a learned skill that healthcare professionals learn as part of their training. The vein is then examined with ultrasound to confirm that the size and blood flow are adequate enough to allow for a successful blood collection. This is the equivalent of feeling and sometimes seeing the veins for adequacy done by the healthcare professionals today. Once this is in place, the robot aligns the needle and inserts it into the vein. The process from cuffing to sticking takes about one minute. Lastly a phlebotomist, nurse or other qualified healthcare professional inserts the appropriate tubes or sets up the appropriate IV bags into the apparatus.
While automating blood draws has for many years been a subject of water cooler talk for healthcare workers, especially laboratory personnel, the Veebot Robotic Phlebotomist falls short in the delivery. To discover why, tune into part 2 of the “Blood Collection Automation, Hold on to your Phlebotomists!” series on Thursday!